Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Seven Reasons Why/How Ad Agencies Lose Business

The late, great David McCall used to say that the day an agency gets an account they are a day closer to losing it.  A bit cynical, but very true.  As a recruiter, I have asked many advertising agency executives why they lost an account and many client executives why they pulled their business from their agencies.  Here are my observations from the many answers I have received.

1)    Change in client key personnel
No surprise here.  As they say, “The new broom sweeps clean”.  Many a CMO, CEO has fired their agency and hired a new one in order to work with someone they previously knew or a friend who they trust.  Many simply hire a new agency to insure loyalty to them.  It happens frequently and often without warning, but this happening should be at least anticipated by any ad agency if a new senior person joins their client.

2)    Clients who become tired of their advertising
Clients often become tired of their own advertising long before the consumer does; after all, how often can a company show the same commercial to their sales force? All agencies should anticipate this problem and should be constantly working on ways to refresh a current campaign in order to keep the client enthusiastic.  

3)    Agencies do not listen to their clients
I have had dozens of client advertising and marketing executives tell me that their agencies just don’t listen.  Sometimes what the clients want is significant and, ironically, sometimes it is merely the feeling that the agency is not paying attention to their needs.  I had a client tell me that he had been asking his agency to prepare an FSI (Free Standing Insert) coupon ad for both print and digital and his agency simply ignored him.  He hired a new agency to do that and it opened the door for the existing agency to lose the account. 

4)    Agencies become arrogant about their own work
Apropos of two and three above, sometimes the work does wear out.  Many agencies have insisted on not changing the campaign when a new solution is long overdue.  This is very common, especially with long-running campaigns.

5)    Agencies don’t insert themselves into their client organizations
A common complaint is that clients don’t see their agencies except for major presentations.  One client told me that he had actually not seen his agency management in two years (although he had seen his account team). Agency management needs to see its clients, no matter how small, on a frequent basis.  Another client told me that his account team never came to see him on a one-on-one basis.  They only came to see him en masse or for major presentations.  Many have told me that they do not hear from their account teams with regularity.  Account people need to talk to their client counterparts every day, even it is just to say hello and ask if there is anything they can or should be doing.

6)    Agencies that have not learned their client’s business
I have heard about agencies presenting work that is rejected because it is not consistent with the client’s objectives or which is inconsistent with the client’s business situation or issues.  In many cases, the client has not communicated its problems or objectives to the agency, but it is up to the agency as a service supplier to learn its clients’ business, even at the risk of being pushy.

Agencies need to have a constant presence at their clients in order to know and understand their account(s).  They must take the time to learn their clients’ business.  And agencies cannot use the excuse that the procurement people won’t allow frequent visits.

7)    Agency Merger and Acquisitions
Never been sure what actually happens, but from observation, accounts seem to leave agencies once they have been purchased or merged.  Change in management and procedures certainly has a lot to do with it.  All too often, senior account and creative people get moved, rotated or terminated which angers clients because it upsets the status quo.  I have never figured out why one agency buys or merges with another and then completely decimates the culture – causing the very clients they purchased to leave.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Adventures In Advertising: What Really Went On During A Big Budget Shoot In The Seventies

This is a wonderful advertising story about a six week shoot.  It is very much about working hard, playing hard and solving problems.  These kind of adventures just don’t happen anymore which is what makes this story worth sharing. 

I worked at the old Kenyon & Eckhardt (which became part of FCB and subsequently Interpublic).  We handled Helena Rubinstein Cosmetics (no longer in the U.S.), which was a well-known and major brand.  We had hired Katherine Ross (The Graduate, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Stepford Wives) as spokesperson.  The client, along with about eight agency people – two writers, two art directors, a producer, a casting person, the account lead (me) and a junior account person – went for a six week “shoot”, both print and television. It was to be a full year’s work.  It took place in and around Los Angeles.  Ms Ross determined the length of the shoot. 

Ms. Ross was a major star in those days and she signed the contract reluctantly, not sure she really wanted to be a spokesperson; she actually rarely wore makeup. But she agreed to do it and she was gorgeous.   She insisted that her significant other, Conrad Hall (Oscar winning cinematographer) be the cameraman, both for TV and print. We did not object since Connie had a background in commercials. There was also a director and the usual crews for television and print. 

We booked into the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and had a contest to see who could rent the most absurd car.  There were, of course, Mercedes and Rolls, there was a Jaguar and then there was me – I rented a Volkswagen Beetle because I knew that everyone else would get exotic cars. The client marketing director was also in on it and an MG sports car.  I won the contest, but I can’t remember the prize, but it was ridiculous and inexpensive.  It was fun and helped the whole group bond.  By the end of the second day, everyone returned their car and got a normal rental.  Because I was the senior account person on the shoot, I had a lovely suite so we could have meetings in it. (Imagine today being able to book a suite at that kind of hotel.)

We spent the first week prepping Katherine and Conrad, going over the scripts as well as scouting many locations.  Then the shoot began.  The first week was an easy, fun week with lots of good restaurants and a decent amount of time at the pool.

Katherine Ross broke the cardinal rule of shoots and insisted we shoot as many commercials and print ads as possible in her Malibu home, despite Connie Hall’s admonition to her not to do it.  We agreed because it was convenient for her and saved us a lot of time and money on location travels and location rentals.  Every morning at about 6 or 7AM we would drive to Malibu and join the dozens of production people who invaded her home.  The first day, when she saw all the people in her home, her furniture moved and all the cables and lights inside, she actually cried.  Conrad calmed her down; he was also clear in telling her that he had warned her. We offered to find other locations but she said no.  The shoot in her home covered a year’s worth of commercials – probably eight or nine spots in different locations; we even rented extra furniture. The home part lasted for three weeks, at least.  We would shoot for twelve hours and then return to Beverly Hills.  I think the thing she hated most was the catering truck parked near her house and the crew eating food on her grounds, which were right on the beach in Malibu.

We worked very long hours and it was hard work.  But we also played very hard.

At the end of every shoot day, despite being exhausted, we would clean up and go for a dinner at a famous restaurant.  There was no Zagat in those days, but we ate well and often expensively. During the six weeks we were there, we got to all the good restaurants  – The Brown Derby, Scandia, Perino’s, Chasen’s, Lawry’s, even the Playboy Club – you get the point.  On weekend’s we would go to Ships for breakfast in Westwood (Ships had toasters on every table, which made it fun).  All those places (except Lowry’s) are gone now, but the memories remain (all of those places can be Googled).

On the weekends we all did different things – often paid for by the production company. (I am sure it was built into their bid) It included at least two people going to Catalina Island, many went to Disney, Knotts Berry Farm, San Diego and other hijinks.  The client was a willing participant.  Money was never an issue at all.  I think I flew home for the weekend once or twice, because I had small children.

There was lots of drinking and other vices.  But there was also a lot of bonding.  As a result, we all worked together very well.  Everyone participated in ideas and suggestions.

Once during the shoot, I had to do a one day turnaround back to New York to handle an issue with another account I ran; I took the red eye home and returned the next evening.  We flew first class in those days.  I even had something called an airline credit card which was good to buy tickets on most airlines; the bill went right to the agency.  That is typical of how account people operated in those days.

One of the best memories I have is when we were shooting a print ad someplace way out in the Valley at a home with a swimming pool (I think it was for waterproof lipstick and Katherine Ross was to demo the Rubinstein waterproof product). The reason we shot in the Valley was because it was January or February and we rented a pool in Beverly Hills, but when we checked it out the day before, they had not cleaned the pool so it was unusable.  The location we found at the last minute was about forty minutes from Beverly Hills so we had to drive first to Malibu and then to the meet up place and then 45 minutes to the Valley.  Katherine insisted on riding in the Winnebago, which was her changing room and refuge which was rented, per her contract. It turned out to be a bad idea. Because there were so many people and cars, we agreed to meet someplace in Beverly Hills.

When we met up with Katherine in the Winnebago, the entire caravan of cars (at least a dozen) followed the Winnebago up through Mulholland Drive, which is very twisty.  The Winnebago driver was a lunatic and drove way too fast.  I was in the second car and I remember seeing Katherine’s horrified face looking out of the small back window, as her driver careened down the road.  She was looking out the back window of the Winnebago with horror on her face as if to beg for help to slow the driver down.  For anyone who knows Mulholland drive, it is narrow and and it was impossible to pass the Winnebago to get in front to slow the driver down.  There were no cell phones in those days.  At any rate, the drive took 45 minutes, including a short drive into the Valley on the 405.  When we arrived at our destination, she stepped out of the van, was ashen and gasping for fresh air.  After about a minute, she took one look around and whoopsed.  We cancelled that day’s shoot and I drove her home.    Looking back at that day it was awful for Katherine Ross, but it was actually a very funny incident.  I am sure we spent a bunch of time that day at the Beverly Wilshire pool but it took two days looking or a more convenient location that had to be appropriate for both a Hollywood star and the product.)
When the shoot was over, all of us, including Katherine Ross and Conrad Hall went to a well-known Italian restaurant for dinner to celebrate.  I don’t think she had much fun, but she was a good sport.  I do know that she confessed that she was glad the shoot was over. I don’t remember how much the dinner was, but it was picked up by the production company and had to cost several thousand dollars, expensive now, but a fortune then.

The shoot was successful and everyone worked their tails off.  Most of us went back to the office to edit, but as soon as the editing was done and the print ads selected, almost everyone took a week off to recover.  Imagine doing that today.

Everyone in advertising has their own stories of insanity on shoots that took place in the seventies and eighties.
Those were different days, but these kinds of experiences are what kept the group bonded, the work great and the people committed to their agencies and their businesses.  Advertising could be really fun in those days.

I would love to hear your stories.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

How The Internet Is Diminishing Good Creative Work

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the diminishment of the ad agency creative department.  I received an email from a reader who made a great comment about something I neglected.  The comment, to paraphrase, was that analytics and social media are a profound effect on all creative work.  Because of digital, advertisers are only interested in accurately pinpointing the target audience and the message no longer matters.  This problem has significantly contributed to a decline in creativity in all media.

The writer was totally correct.

The best example is banners.  Banner ads show up on every computer and mostly go ignored.  Most banners are neither compelling nor interesting and, more or less, simply flash the brand name in order to remind the reader about a brand or product.  Often, the algorithms follow your habits and chose brands, companies or categories that have previously been looked up on either the hand-held or laptop and flash their banners.  These banners are rarely of interest and are almost never persuasive.  They are merely a targeted message that rarely leaves a positive impression, if it leaves any impression at all.  Personally, I doubt that they ever sell anything. I honestly believe that some companies do banner ads because other companies or their competitors do them.  But in these messages, the creative is immaterial and not compelling or persuasive; in fact, it is non-existent.  All the advertiser is looking for, I suspect, is name recognition – the message rarely matters.

Most banners do nothing for branding.

The internet has fractionated creative, often putting different messages in different media. Web sites have little to do with commercials, which have little to do with other brand messages. This breaks the first rule of selling and communications – consistency of message. The best advertising and creative has always been that which establishes a tone of voice for the brand and a singular message.  When that tone is missing or changes, the communication goes “off message”.  

As every advertising person knows, one of the biggest problems in the business is the separation of its various elements into different departments or even different agencies.  Media is separated from creative, digital executions and web development may be created by unaffiliated agencies.  I suspect that this is the principal reason why both clients and agencies are trying to find ways of ending these silos is to keep the messages unified.  To keep advertising messages cohesive requires that someone be in charge, generally one person.  Some of the most successful brands and campaigns are controlled by one creative lead who is able to unify the silos, which is a difficult task, to say the least.  The entire industry has been wrestling with ending the silos so that they can unify the message. It takes one strong executive to oversee and unify the chaos.

A great example of someone having the brand vision is Michel Roux.  Michel Roux was president of Carrilon Importers and the creative genius responsible for Absolut Vodka. He was in charge of every execution portraying the brand and made sure that they correctly communicated the brand vision.  He hired TBWA to execute the iconic advertising for Absolut that ran for over twenty years.  As Richard Lewis, who ran the brand at the agency told me, “Michel was a genius, he could look at two proposed executions and know immediately which was right and which was off message, despite both looking similar. And he intuitively understood how Absolut should be portrayed in each medium.  Absolut Vodka was never the same after Michel Roux was no longer involved with the brand.

There are many, many examples of advertising people like that, many from the agency – from David Ogilvy, to Mary Wells to Bill Bernbach.  But because, as I previously wrote, there are few (if any) creative stars these days, there are hardly any who have become brand masters (not my term, but one written about by the Harvard Business Review years ago).  Unfortunately, because many companies use different agencies to do strategy, creative, digital, etc., the people responsible for overseeing and unifying these executions are generally corporate brand people who rarely have the abilities, knowledge or insights of people like Michel Roux. And the top of the approval pyramid is a person who often lacks the creative knowledge or vision to unify the brand and keep all messages on target.    
Unfortunately, many clients place efficiency ahead of the brand message. Data may identify the target in terms of demographics and viewing and online habits, but it does not really identify the message necessary to reach those buyers. As a result, we have a generation of creatives who only know how to execute in one medium and do not understand the connection among the various media. Too often, purely digital people don’t understand broadcast and the general creative people have no interest in digital.

Not long ago a well-known digital art director told me he didn’t care about television, because that medium is dying.  This attitude does not bode well for the business.  

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